Southbury Teen Review Blog

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Stolen by Lucy Christopher February 24, 2013

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 8:41 pm
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stolen bookGemma is a sixteen-year-old British teen on vacation with her parents.  While at the Bangkok airport, she runs to grab a quick cup of coffee before her plane takes off.  Leaving her parents for just a few minutes, she is approached by an innocuous stranger. She thinks nothing of it and enters a polite conversation as he covertly drugs her coffee and proceeds to kidnap her.  Gemma’s awareness is hazy as she is whisked away onto a plane with her captor.  She wakes up and finds herself in Australia, alone with her abductor Ty.  She quickly finds out they are completely isolated, deep in the outback.  Gemma doesn’t give up trying to escape even after several life-threatening episodes.

Ty tells Gemma he’s been planning to “save her” from her life for a long time and horrifyingly corroborates isolated events in which they’ve interacted before.  Gemma recognizes him as a tramp that lived in a park near her home.  We feel something for Ty, perhaps pity.  His intentions were not all bad, just corrupted by obsession and insanity.  As Gemma listens to his stories we begin to understand his character more.  We become torn and confused just like Gemma.

I was immediately drawn in to this novel.  Gemma tells of her ordeal in the form of a letter to her captor.  Referring to Ty as you, her voice narrates the action of her abduction, peppering it with the future knowledge of what will come later.  Lucy Christopher does a wonderful job letting us into the minds of two very different people.  Our emotions change with Gemma’s, from confusion to fury to hopelessness.  Her sadness and regret is interrupted by anger.  Gemma seems to develop Stockholm Syndrome as a result of being isolated with only one person on which to rely.  Ty loves her and takes care of her.  But Ty has stolen her.  I applaud the author’s choice to not have the abductor sexually assault the victim.  Although perhaps unrealistic, it lends credence to the fact that he truly cares for her and would not hurt her.  This only deepens our ambivalence towards him.

The starkness of the Australian outback is a character in itself.  We can understand how someone would give it all up and retreat to the desert.  It is merciless and infinite, erasing all hope of escape like footprints in the sand.  It is beautiful, yet unforgiving, as Gemma discovers.  Sunburn, dehydration and delirium are the result of failed attempts to flee.  Ty comes to her rescue, nursing her back to health.  Under different circumstances, it could be an oasis from the mundane, civilized world.

I made the mistake of reading the first page of this book as I was covering it.  I was hooked from there!  What a great book! Never have I felt so conflicted in my feelings for a fictional “bad guy.”  Christopher blurs the line between good and evil. Gemma’s gut-wrenching torment is palpable throughout the novel.  Her voice is powerful, yet fragile but always real.  Let us not forget she was Stolen.

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Dirty Little Secrets by C.J. Omololu

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 8:29 pm
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dirtylittlesecretsLucy Tompkins has a dirty little secret…her mother is a hoarder.  For years her mother has been “collecting” items that are too precious to throw out.  The result is a house filled to the ceiling with newspapers, clothes and garbage.  There is no heat and no running water.  Lucy navigates her way around the trash and her mother’s illness, biding her time until she can leave the house like her two older siblings.  This is the deep, dark secret she’s been living with her whole life.  Lucy has artfully controlled the situation by never letting anyone in her home and choosing her friends carefully.  All that falls apart when she returns from a sleepover to find her mother has died under a pile of National Geographic magazines.  Panic-stricken she starts to dial 911, but stops.  If the authorities come…everyone will know their dirty little secret!

The majority of the novel deals with Lucy’s attempt to clean up her house so she can attend to her mother.  At first I didn’t understand why she just wouldn’t call for help.  Her mother’s dead, who cares about the house.  But then we are given a glimpse into exactly what Lucy has been living with.  If you’ve ever seen the TV shows about hoarders, you’ll understand.  Lucy’s mother has saved every single scrap for years and years, and it’s all in the house.  There’s no where to walk except for winding, claustrophobic paths carved into the debris.  The smell is overwhelming. Lucy recalls how family members have tried to help and clean up in the past.  This was seen by her mother as a betrayal.  Lucy has no choice but to live in the squalor until she graduates.

Her mother’s sudden death has made Lucy take action like never before.  The dichotomy between the anger and sadness she feels towards her is perfect.  Lucy is finally free of her mother and she’s left with the mess, but the fact is that her mother has died.  The guilt she feels for not mourning properly is equaled by her fear and sadness.  By the end of this Dirty Little Secrets I came away with a great respect for Lucy and her strength to endure her mother’s illness and try to protect her family.  I can not even imagine what it must be like to live and function in this situation.  For many people out there, this is a reality.  I applaud C.J. Omololu for shedding light on the issue of hoarding and those it affects.

 

Wildthorn by Jane Eagland

Filed under: Books — Heather @ 8:21 pm
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wildthornLouisa Cosgrove is on her way to be a companion to the eldest daughter of the Woodville family.  Instead she is brought to Wildthorn Hall, an asylum for the mentally insane.  Immediately stripped of all her belongings, she is addressed only as Lucy Childs.  There must be some mistake.  She’s Louisa, not Lucy!  She’s expected at the Woodvilles.  Someone must straighten this out.  No explanation, no recourse, no hope of freedom, Louisa is left to fend for her self and figure out how and why she is trapped in this nightmare.

The daughter of a doctor, Louisa grew up being encouraged to learn and dream.  She wasn’t like other Victorian young ladies. Her aspirations are wider than marriage and motherhood.  Louisa longs to be a doctor, like her father.  When he suddenly dies, Louisa’s world begins to unravel.  Gone are her hopes for the future she wants.  Her brother, squandering his opportunities, scoffs at her.  Her mother and aunt suggest she accepts her fate as a lady, and ladies are not doctors!

Fast forward and we are with Louisa as she encounters firsthand the horrors of a Victorian lunatic asylum.  The doctors here are nothing like her kind, compassionate father.  Monstrous treatments and bestial living conditions are endured by those kept at Wildthorn Hall.  Louisa’s only glimmer of light in her darkened existence is Eliza, one of the workers.  With her assistance, Louisa will unearth the truth of who she is and who is responsible for her incarceration.

Eagland exposes the reader to the true atrocities that were perpetrated in the name of science and medicine.  We are with Louisa as she is stripped naked and bound in a bathtub of cold water.  Our minds linger over the horrors she witnesses and endures. And gnawing at the back of our consciousness is that little seed of doubt.  Who is Louisa …or is it Lucy?

Wildthorn is an exquisitely crafted thriller that delves deeply into the harsh reality of a Victorian woman who didn’t want to conform to the social norms of the time.  Imagine your only path one of wife and mother.  No education, no career.  And if your husband or family thinks you’re not behaving appropriately, off you go to the asylum!  I think the sentence that encapsulates the feelings that permeated the time is, “Excessive study, especially in one of the fair sex, often leads to insanity.”

 

Hush by Eishes Chayil

hush bookHush is story of Gittel Klein, a young girl living in Borough Park, Brooklyn, the largest community of Orthodox Judaism outside Israel.  From a very early age, Gittel has been brought up to become “Eishes Chayil” or a “woman of valor.”  This means following the strict rules of her community and becoming a wife and mother.  Life in this insular community is different, but it is all she’s ever known.  The novel takes us back in time as Gittel reminisces about her family, her neighbors, and her best friend Devory.  We follow her as she celebrates Purim, sneaks kosher candy-that may not be kosher enough, and listens to her father’s stories.

When Gittel is ten, she witnesses something terrible.  Devory is raped by her brother Shmuli while Gittel lies in the next bed. Unsure of what she really saw, Gittel is confused and upset.  No one, not Devory’s parents or her own, believe that such a thing could occur.  Devory’s erratic behavior continues to escalate.  Constantly trying to stay with Gittel, she is always forced to return home-where her attacker waits.  One day, Devory commits suicide by hanging herself in Gittel’s home.  A tragedy, this is all best forgotten.  Gittel is forced to put the memory of her friend in the past and move on with her life.  Devory’s family moves to Israel and life in Borough Park goes on.

Fast forward ten years and Gittel is now eighteen – graduated and married.  Attempting to push her memories of Devory out of her mind, she can no longer ignore her feelings.  The ghost of her friends begins haunting her dreams, forcing Gittel to confront the issue.  She risks everything by going to the police and telling them what happened to her friend all those years ago.  Why did this have to happen to Devory?  Why will no one acknowledge the ugly truth?  Will Gittel avenge her friend and lay to rest the nightmares she’s been carrying around for the last decade?

Hush is an incredibly powerful book.  The author, writing under a pseudonym, gives us a deeper look into the ultra-Orthodox lifestyle.  I was entranced by the rules and rituals Gittel followed.  The author delicately describes the community, not holding back.  The sense of devotion is intoxicating while the extremities are at times alarming.  She was able to capture a complete picture of Chassidism, good and bad.  I was familiar with some of the rules, but what stood out to me was the role of women. Responsible for carrying on the traditions by giving birth, they are second-class citizens.  Gittel’s only option beyond marriage and motherhood is to become a teacher.  I was surprised at the level of glaring ignorance on the subject of sex and reproduction, not just from the women but the men as well.  Gittel’s confusion over what happened to Devory is compounded by the lack of information in the community.  They have no word for “rape” therefore it could not have happened.  Hush, don’t say a word.  It will all just go away.  Eishes Chayil has shed light on a darkness that is plaguing us all over the world, not just Borough Park.  No longer should victims be silenced.

 

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Filed under: Books,The Classics — Heather @ 8:06 pm
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cold comfort farmMiss Flora Poste is orphaned by the death of her parents and must find a solution to her sudden situation.  She writes to her plentiful relatives in hopes of finding a place to live.  She chooses to take up her residence with the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex.  Flora hopes to find diversion among her lowly relatives.  She comes from London, after all. Convinced she’ll find disaster and ruin in their rural existence, she sets out on her adventure.

Flora “cannot tolerate a mess,” yet that’s exactly what she finds in Howling (yes, that’s a town).  The farm is everything she imagined and much, much more.  Aunt Judith speaks of a wrong done to Robert Poste that must be atoned for, but don’t ask her what it is.  Her lips are sealed.  Flora’s cousins have other things on their minds.  Reuben wants the farm and suspects Flora has come to take his inheritance.  Seth, when not impregnating the hired girl, longs to be a movie star.  And Elfine dreams of poetry and Dick Hawke-Monitor, the young lord down the lane.  Flora, or Robert Poste’s child as she is called, sees immediate need for intervention.

“There have always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm” is the mantra bellowed by Aunt Ada Doom, Flora’s great aunt. When only a child, the old lady “saw something nasty in the woodshed” that has forced her to take to her room and never venture past the farm gates.  Her manipulations and antics keep all the members of the Starkadders afraid to leave Aunt Ada or the farm.  Ask anyone and they’ll tell you there is a curse on Cold Comfort Farm.

Flora systematically works her magic on the members of her extended family.  She transforms Elfine from a will-o’the wisp into a proper modern lady fit for marriage (not to a first cousin).  Amos, Judith’s husband, takes Flora’s advice and leaves to preach across the United States in a Ford.  This leaves Reuben with the farm.  Seth is discovered by a famous movie producer and is whisked away to Hollywood.  After Flora shares her magazines and travelogues, Aunt Ada emerges from her room to announce she will travel the world starting with the French Riviera.  The doom has been lifted from Cold Comfort Farm . All the Starkadders live happily ever after.  And Flora Poste flies off to marry the man of her dreams, Charles.  After all, he does have heavenly teeth!

This novel is a hoot!  Cold Comfort Farm is a sharp parody of romantic fiction popular at the time.  Stella Gibbons creates cringe-worthy yet endearing characters not soon forgotten.  You’ll in for a good time with this one, just mind the sukebind’s not in blossom!

 

Alice I Have Been by Melanie Benjamin

 

alice i have beenAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland has delighted readers for years.  You may think that her story is just a flight of fancy sprung from the verdant imagination of Lewis Carroll.  Or perhaps you’ve heard rumors that the author had other improper proclivities. Regardless of your Alice experience, Alice I Have Been is a brilliant look at the life of the Carroll’s muse.

Alice Pleasance Liddlell Hargreaves is now in her eighties.  As she looks back on her long life she feels the inescapable shadow of being immortalized in one of literature’s greatest works.  As a child, Alice roamed Oxford with her sisters.  Her father’s work brought her in contact with many of the intellectuals of the time.  Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was simply an awkward, stuttering, young mathematics professor.  He befriended Liddell and his daughters as they spent many a “golden afternoon” in Oxford.  His talent for storytelling and his association with Alice led to the classic tale.  On Alice’s urging, Dodgson (as Lewis Carroll) penned one of the stories he created to entertain the girls.

That’s not all there is to the story.  In addition to mathematics and writing, Dodgson also dabbled in photography.  Many of the subjects of his photo happen to be young girls in questionable poses.  Alice describes she discarded her prim Victorian garb to dress up as a gypsy for one particular picture.  This could be seen as inappropriate for today’s standards, so you can imagine the reaction elicited during the 1860’s.

As Alice matures, we follow her as she falls in love with Prince Leopold.  The rumor of scandal keeps them from marrying.  She marries Reginald Hargreaves and has three sons.  The heartbreaks she endures throughout her life are exquisitely described, painful memories we share with Alice.  As she looks back on her life, she is content to embrace that she is Alice.

Melanie Benjamin has crafted a beautiful tale, the perfect mix of fiction with fact.  Reminiscent of Carroll’s original work, Oxford’s lush surrounding is the perfect backdrop for young Alice.  The controversy surrounding Dodgson’s proclivities are examined, yet not judged.  We are left with Alice’s interpretations to piece together what really happened.  Fans of Lewis Carroll’s work will find new insight into Alice after reading Alice I Have Been.

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The Darkest Minds February 20, 2013

Filed under: Books — Jessie @ 4:42 pm
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The Darkest Minds
Alexandra Bracken

The United States has recently fallen victim to Idiopathic Adolescent Acute Neurodegenation, IAAN, a disease that targets children between ages 8 and 13. Those that haven’t died have been left with psychic abilities and are now considered dangerous to be around. In order to protect the country, the government has created camps to rehabilitate the survivors. When Ruby turned 10 she was sent to Thurmond Camp where she has spent the last 6 years being “rehabilitated” and trying to hide her abilities. Everything changes when a rebel group breaks Ruby out of Thurmond when they learn that she is really an Orange. Once out of Thurmond, Ruby does not know who to trust and sneaks away from the rebel group and meets up with a group of runaways from another camp. Together they begin looking for the legendary Slip Kid who may have the answers to their problems and be able to keep them safe.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read this book but the premise looked interesting. A disease that kills off so many of the country’s young population and leaves the survivors with unnatural abilities sounds plausible in a not too distant future. I liked that the kids all had different abilities but they were focused into 5 main categories. There was no sugar-coating in this book and violence and death were very real. I hate to compare it to The Hunger Games but it was very similar in that there is so much violence and even though the characters cling to a small bit of hope, there does not seem to be a happy ending in sight.

Ruby started off as a timid character because she was so afraid of her abilities but she learned to trust herself and become more confident. Lee was a great love interest. He is kind, loyal, and protective and never gave up on what he believed. I really liked Chubs, he was brutally honest and a little standoffish but he grew into a great character by the end and I really started to understand feel for him.

One of my big issues with dystopian novels is the world building but Bracken did a really good job building Ruby’s world. We learn what was the cause of the problems, IAAN, and what happened to get them where they were then, the government setting up camps for the surviving children to “rehabilitate” them. Overall this book was very good. It was interesting and definitely action packed however, because of all the violence, this book is not suitable for all readers.